Apr 12, 2018
Learning From Others

In just her fourth year as Head Girls’ Coach at Salisbury (N.C.) High School, Lakai Brice led the team to a 21-3 record and the second round of the state playoffs. She was also named the Rowan County Girls’ Basketball Coach of the Year by the Salisbury Post.

Like most coaches, she credits her players’ hard work for the team’s success. But she also offers an assist to a group of people not associated with the program at all — coaches of other teams in her area.

A year ago, Brice not only spent hours on practice plans and game strategy. She took the time to tap into the wisdom of those with more experience than herself. She visited with veteran coaches — and not just basketball coaches — who were willing to share their ideas with her and open up their practices.

While Brice’s first three years at Salisbury had gone well, the program had not enjoyed major success since the early 2000s. She wanted to take the team to a new level of play, and she realized that would require taking her coaching expertise to a new level, as well.

The first coach Brice turned to was Andrew Mitchell, a local legend who’s coached both boys’ and girls’ high school basketball teams to state championships. Currently the Head Boys’ Coach at North Rowan High School, Mitchell stressed that it’s crucial for head coaches to surround themselves with effective assistants who believe in their leader and his or her philosophy. Taking that cue, Brice invited longtime Salisbury Assistant Coach Robert Hairston to join her on the bench during games, which assistants don’t typically do at Salisbury. Previously, he attended and helped out with practices, but watched contests from the stands. “A lot of our success last season came from him,” Brice says.

She also picked Mitchell’s brain about everything from running drills to implementing a more effective transition game. She went to preseason open gym sessions to observe, studied North Rowan’s game film, and asked Mitchell to send her videos of his team running drills so she could use a version of them with her players. Brice also worked summer camps with Mitchell, who attended some of Salisbury’s games and invited her team to his games.

“A lot of times, he told me when practice was, and I just showed up,” Brice says. “What I learned from him helped our team become quicker on both offense and defense. We were more effective with our press and with moving the ball down the court.”

It was a football coach, Joe Nixon, Head Football Coach at West Rowan High School, who then helped Brice with her leadership skills. “We got to talking, and he said, ‘You have to get the kids to believe in what you’re doing, and once that happens, they’ll buy into other things,'” says Brice, who also observed Nixon’s football practices.

The third coach from whom Brice sought wisdom was West Rowan Head Boys’ Basketball Coach Mike Gurley, who has won a state title and is known for aggressively coaching defense and getting the most out of his players. Brice asked for his advice about switching from a 2-3 zone to full-court man-to-man coverage. She and Hairston attended West Rowan practices and then incorporated what they saw into Salisbury’s game.

Investing time seeking out experienced coaches was a unique strategy, and it worked. “Rowan County has a lot of good coaches, and I still consider myself a student of the game,” Brice says. “I’m always learning. Basketball has changed and evolved so much, and taking any time I can to watch how someone else approaches the game — or coaching in general — is important.”

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